Leslie Feinberg: Activist & Author

This June Keshet is so very excited to be partnering with the Jewish Women’s Archive to celebrate Pride. Each week we will bring you a profile of a different individual who has helped break down barriers and fight for her community as an LGBTQ (or ally) Jewish woman. To discover even more amazing, groundbreaking, Jewish women visit JWA.

I only discovered Leslie Feinberg after her death, but everything I learned about her in the weeks and months afterwards made me grieve that she was gone, and wish that she had more time.

Alienated from her family at age 14 because she was a lesbian, Feinberg came of age working factory jobs in Buffalo, NY. One generally doesn’t think of blue-collar labor unions as particularly gay-friendly (especially pre-Stonewall), but Feinberg not only straddled the gap, she helped others realize that as marginalized groups fighting for their rights, workers and gays had more in common than they realized.

She joined the Workers World Party in her 20s, and for many years wrote a column for their newspaper called “Lavender & Red,” discussing the intersection of socialism and LGBT rights. She fought for women, for transgender people, for the disabled, rallying those around her with her passion and determination.

But her biggest impact by far was through her writing.

There is something so powerful, so visceral, about seeing echoes of your own experience in the pages of a novel, and the painful honesty of Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues, first published in 1993, was a revelation for a generation of lesbians. That would have been enough, to write a book that speaks to a moment in history and touches those who lived through it. But the writing is so vivid that even though my own life could not be more different from that of Jess Goldberg, the main character, I couldn’t put the book down. It’s that rare, powerful thing, a timeless work.

I’m so sorry that Leslie Feinberg is gone. But through her writing, she’s going to remain with me—with us—for a very long while.

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